Developed in 1942 during World War II by Permacel, formerly a division of Johnson & Johnson, duct tape, (aka duck tape), is a pressure sensitive tape often sealed with polyethylene. The water resistant rubber-based adhesive tape was used used on ammunition cases and to repair military equipment (firearms, jeeps, aircraft) on the fly.
The original name of the cloth-backed, waterproof adhesive was duck tape. The name duck was used to refer to the tape’s impermeability – like a duck’s feathers which repels water naturally. One of the earliest mentions for “civilian use” is in an advertisement by Gimbels department store in June 1942 and substitutes “ladder tape” which was used to hold together Venetian blinds. The tape was also advertised for defense against World War II bombing raids.
The term “duct tape” doesn’t seem to appear until 1970. An ad by the Larry Plotnik Company of Chelsea, Mass., promoted rolls of the tape in a bankruptcy sale. In 1973, The New York Times reported that to combat the infiltration of cold air, a contractor placed ”duct tape – a fiber tape used to seal the joints in heating ducts – over the openings.”
Duct tape’s widespread popularity and variety of uses has garnered it a reputation in popular culture, and has inspired numerous creative applications. Some more unusual uses on record include: Apollo 13’s repair of its CO2 Scrubbers, the treatment of warts, and more recently, a fix for Apple’s iPhone 4 dropped call issue.
Contrary to the name’s implied function, it is not recommended that duct tape be used for sealing duct work. Most modern building codes require special fire resistant products that use foil backings and contain longer lasting adhesives.